Twenty years ago this Friday, January 15, the internet changed forever. Wikipedia went live, gifting the world with a cavern of endless information, both helpful and potentially questionable. Happy birthday, Wikipedia.
So the deal here is I am a grown-ass man too skittish to watch horror movies but still perversely drawn to the perversity of horror movies, and so I just read plot summaries of horror movies on Wikipedia. Totally normal thing. Sophisticated. Noble, even. Call it a life hack. Call it a lifestyle. This first came up back in 2018 when I refused to watch Ari Aster’s multi-decapitation trashfest Hereditary. (I have the multi-decapitation thing on good authority: “Joan, other coven members, and the headless corpses of his mother and grandmother bow to him.”) I took the same approach to Aster’s next movie, 2019’s Midsommar, which was even gnarlier but also, if I’m reading this right, funnier. (“The scene disturbs the group, but they decide to stay long enough for Josh to finish his thesis.”)
And so now, in honor of Wikipedia’s 20th birthday, I have offered to review some of the (???) best horror movies of 2020 entirely by reading their Wikipedia summaries. Utilizing the industry-standard 0-10 Pitchfork scale, I will rate these films—which, to be absolutely clear, I will never watch, because I’ve got enough problems—in such categories as Plot Coherence, Presumed Gnarliness, and “Elevated Horror” Prestige Potential. (Isn’t “Elevated Horror” such a bullshit term, though? Certainly we sophisticated horror-movie aficionados can agree on this.) We might get into some spoilers here, which is fine, because you shouldn’t watch shit like this anyway.
I would rather not do anything like this ever again.
Movie: The Invisible Man (directed by Leigh Whannell, wide released February 2020)
Premise: A woman named Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is terrorized by a murderous ex boyfriend who is, frequently, invisible.
Wikipedia Plot Coherence: 8.4. Excellent summary here, clear and direct and spare, if occasionally a little dry. (“Alone at the house, Cecilia tries various tactics to catch the figure.”)
Presumed Gnarliness: 4.3. Whole lotta throat slitting in this movie, yes, but mostly I’d just be upset at the sight of my beloved Peggy Olson in distress. (Related: I watched the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale and did not care for it at all.)
Elevated Horror Prestige Potential: 7.5. Pretty high given Moss’s involvement, though not as high as when she costarred in Jordan Peele’s Us, which due to its sky-high EHPP I grudgingly watched in the theater, which IMO was very brave. (IIRC her character got stabbed in the throat, which I did not care for, either.)
Best Plot-Summary Quote: “Satisfied, Cecilia departs to use the restroom.”
Final Rating: 6.7. Elisabeth, please do more romantic comedies.
Movie: Antebellum (Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, September 2020)
Premise: Janelle Monáe plays Veronica, a renowned modern-day sociologist who is also Eden, a woman enslaved on what appears to be a Civil War–era Louisiana plantation.
Wikipedia Plot Coherence: 4.5. Wait, is the fact that Veronica and Eden are the same person somehow a big revelation? Does she have a different hairstyle or something? Is this one of those movies where the trailer spoils everything?
Presumed Gnarliness: 5.9. Various brutal beatings and brandings and burning-alives, though none quite as brutal as this Vulture review.
Elevated Horror Prestige Potential: 2.6. Huge fan of Monáe as both an actress and a pop star, but this is quite a drop from Moonlight, or even Harriet.
Best Plot-Summary Quote: “Veronica knocks Elizabeth off her horse and puts a rope around her neck, dragging her until she hits the base of a Robert E. Lee statue, thereby breaking her neck.” It’s a metaphor.
Final Rating: 3.0. Janelle, please do more romantic comedies.
Movie: Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg, October 2020)
Premise: A grim sci-fi assassin (Andrea Riseborough) conducts her assassinations by implanting her consciousness into other people’s brains via hella liquid grossness.
Wikipedia Plot Coherence: 7.2. Reasonably easy to follow given all the people stabbing one another (or themselves) while implanted in other people’s bodies.
Presumed Gnarliness: 9.8. Okay, full disclosure, I watched a brief clip of this with no actual killing that was nonetheless super, uh, goopy. Leave me out of it (starting now).
Elevated Horror Prestige Potential: 9.2. Brandon is David Cronenberg’s son, so this is a big whoop, yeah. Should I finally watch The Fly? Yeah, no.
Best Plot-Summary Quote: “Tate instead stabs himself in the skull in an act of rebellion.”
Final Rating: 8.0. This looks aesthetically rad, goopiness aside, but my editor describes it as “basically a gory Black Mirror episode,” and I find Black Mirror Wikipedia plot summaries to be extra disturbing. (Too bleak.) (I did watch the semi-romantic-comedy one.) (That’s it, though.)
Movie: Gretel & Hansel (Oz Perkins, Jan. 2020)
Premise: Witch bakes, eats kids.
Wikipedia Plot Coherence: 6.5. Pretty hard to screw this up, but yes, it’s always entirely clear which children are being eaten and why.
Presumed Gnarliness: 7.9. Disconcertingly high! I did not care for stumbling across this poster in a movie-theater lobby at all! My kids are in this theater! Also, I am in this theater!
Elevated Horror Prestige Potential: 2.5. If this gnarly-fairy-tales trend ends with, like, Bradley Cooper playing the Big Bad Wolf, I’m going to be upset for several reasons.
Best Plot-Summary Quote: “The floor floods with blood and a younger witch emerges, emptying buckets of guts and placing a dismembered child’s arm onto the table before turning this into the food that Holda feeds the siblings.” Yo.
Final Rating: 1.0. Yeah, fuck this movie.
Movie: Blood Quantum (Jeff Barnaby, April 2020)
Premise: Zombies on a reservation! Zombie fish! A virtual guarantee that we’ll get a classic “X mournfully shoots Y in the head” zombie-movie ending!
Wikipedia Plot Coherence: 1.0. The worst part about relying on Wikipedia plot summaries is when there are, like, 12 main characters who start arbitrarily biting one another. “Joss, Joseph, and Charlie escape with Gisigu and Bumper. While Gisigu and Joseph enter a church to stop two associates of Lysol from murdering a group of survivors, Lysol finds Joss, Charlie and Bumper. Lysol kills Bumper and Joss shoots Lysol, but not before Lysol is able to unleash a zombie from the trunk of a car.” Yeah, got it.
Presumed Gnarliness: 6.5. More people eaten alive by zombies than I would frankly prefer.
Elevated Horror Prestige Potential: 3.0. This all sounds pretty cool TBH, but only white people can become zombies in the movie, which means there’s a perilous It’s a Metaphor factor here.
Best Plot-Summary Quote: “Traylor euthanizes the dog by gunshot,” including a helpful link to the Wiki page for “animal euthanasia.”
Final Rating: 5.5, must not love dogs.
Movie: Impetigore (Joko Anwar, July 2020)
Premise: OK, this is an Indonesian movie that appears to involve a bunch of people being skinned alive, and I have to say this whole project is starting to negatively affect my mood. It’s time to start wrapping this up.
Movie: Unhinged (Derrick Borte, August 2020)
Premise: A random loser played by Russell Crowe, slovenly and a little too well cast, terrorizes a random single mom during a road-rage rampage while the audience sits in a movie theater at the height of summer during a rampaging global pandemic.
Wikipedia Plot Coherence: 8.1. Sheesh, this is quite a rampage, and I could do with a little less coherence.
Presumed Gnarliness: I have a particular sensitivity to Random Woman Terrorized by Random Man situations, which applies even to situations when the woman is not played by Elisabeth Moss. Don’t much care for the bit with the scissors, either.
Elevated Horror Prestige Potential: .5. LOL, this movie couldn’t beat The New Mutants at the box office.
Best Plot-Summary Quote: The “Release” section of this Wiki page is arguably more dramatic: “The date was later pushed back to July 10, then July 31, and, on July 23, the film was again delayed, this time to August 21, 2020.”
Final Rating: 1.5. Still on Team Clooney.
Movie: Fatale (Deon Taylor, December 2020)
Premise: Been meaning to read up on this! It’s a trashy Fatal Attraction–type deal with Hilary Swank as the vengeful woman. Not a horror movie in the classic sense, but I have an extra-particular sensitivity to Man Terrorized by Woman situations.
Wikipedia Plot Coherence: 6.0. Coherence is the least of anyone’s problems here, especially mine.
Presumed Gnarliness: 4.0. Lucky for me, there is no underlying psychological issue at play in my aversion to Man Terrorized by Woman situations whatsoever.
Elevated Horror Prestige Potential: 1.5. LMAO, this movie couldn’t beat Monster Hunter or The Croods: A New Age at the box office.
Best Plot-Summary Quote: Really enjoying the phrase in her spare time in the sentence “In her spare time, Valerie stalks her ex-husband, local politician Carter Heywood, who filed a restraining order against her after she left her service weapon unattended while drunk and their daughter Haley accidentally shot herself, leaving her confined to a wheelchair.”
Final Rating: Hell, 7.0 just for not shooting a dog or skinning anyone.
This was a terrible idea. I’m taking a long walk.